San Francisco 49ers: Contenders or Pretenders?

The San Francisco 49ers have by far been the most surprising team so far this season. A 51-13 win over the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday improved their record to 7-0. They are now one of just two teams that remain undefeated this 2019 NFL season (New England Patriots). This comes following a 2018 season where they finished with a 4-12 record. The defense for the Niners has played a major role in their success allowing just 11 points per game on the season second best in the league including just 7.6 points per game in the four games since their bye week. Their pass defense is best in the league in yards allowed, second best in passing touchdowns allowed, tied for second best in interceptions and are fourth best in forced sacks. Although their run defense is just outside the top 10 in yards allowed, they are third best in touchdowns allowed giving up just two rushing touchdowns this season.

From top to bottom, the defense for the Niners is loaded with big name players and young stars. Rookie defensive lineman Nick Bosa has been a bright spot for the team as so far he has seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 13 QB hits on the season (top 10 in NFL in each). Former longtime Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has had a stellar second season with the 49ers putting up three interceptions and a pick six so far this season. In addition to Sherman and Bosa, the defense also features defensive back K’Waun Williams who has a career high two interceptions this season, defensive end Arik Armstead with 5.5 sacks along with seven QB hits and tackles for losses, Pro Bowl defensive end Dee Ford with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles and Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner with seven QB hits and two forced fumbles.

As far as the 49ers offense goes, it has been their rushing attack doing most of the heavy lifting. The Niners have attempted the most runs and have scored the most rushing touchdowns this season while having the second most rushing yards. Running back Matt Breida leads the team in 446 total rushing yards while Tevin Coleman leads the team with five rushing touchdowns and 66.4 rushing yards per game. On the other hand, their passing attack has left a lot to be desired as they are in the bottom half of every category except for yards per attempt. Another weak spot for the Niners offense have been turnovers as they have committed 12 so far this season including seven interceptions by Jimmy Garoppolo. That brings us to the question: Are the San Francisco legitimate Super Bowl contenders or are they pretenders? Ok now hear me out I know this is going to seem like a cop out answer but, I don’t think that question has been answered yet.

Strength of Schedule

In the Niners seven games so far this season, they have played just two teams with a winning record with the combined record of all their opponents adding to 16-35. The Los Angeles Rams is the only team they have played so far that made the playoffs last season. The remainder of the season, the schedule for the 49ers will be significantly tougher as they will face five teams with winning records. Of those games, three will come against division opponents: Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks (2), three will come against division leaders: New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, and the remaining three coming against teams with losing records: Arizona Cardinals (2) and Atlanta Falcons.

Is their Defense for real? Can the Offense keep up?

So far this season, although the defense of the 49ers has played extraordinary, it not been tested very well like it will be for the remainder of the season. Only two of the teams they have played so far are in the top half of the league in yards from scrimmage per game (Rams and Buccaneers). Those same two teams along with the Carolina Panthers are the only teams the 49ers have played that are in the top half of the league in points per game. Four of the teams remaining on the Niners schedule are in the top 10 in yards from scrimmage per game and all but one (Arizona Cardinals) are in the top half of the league in the same category. Three of the teams remaining on the Niners schedule are in the top 10 in points per game and five are in the top half of the league in the same category.

In addition to the defense being tested, the offense will also be tested but in a completely different way. Can the offense carry the torch in games the defense is struggling? Can the rushing attack remain consistent for the Niners for the remainder of the regular season into the postseason? Will Jimmy Garoppolo continue to struggle or will he be able to improve as the continues? These are questions about the offense that will be answered as the 49ers begin to face tougher opponents in the back half of their season. The way the offense of the 49ers plays could determine whether they are Super Bowl contenders or a one and done team in the postseason.

In Conclusion

The remaining nine games of the season for the 49ers will certainly be a test but on the bright side, history is on their side. Since 1990, none of the previous 25 teams that have started a season 7-0 has finished with less than 11 wins. The average record of teams that started a season 7-0 is 13-3. Of said 25 teams, 12 went on to appear in the Super Bowl with six teams going on to win it all. An additional five teams would appear in their respective Conference championship game. Five teams lost in the divisional round and three lost in the Wild Card round. The Niners have the talent on both sides of the ball to finish the season off well all that’s left is to execute. The keys for a strong finish for this team will be to cut down on turnovers, and improved passing game, and consistency in the running game and on defense. The sky’s the limit of what the this team can accomplish if able to remain healthy and consistent for the rest of the season.

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